After four years starring on Ugly Betty, Michael Urie knows his way around women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So it only seems right that He’s Way More Famous Than You — his debut directing a narrative feature film, which premieres at the Slamdance Film Festival this weekend — centers on precisely that topic.
In Famous, Bored to Death alum Halley Feiffer, who co-wrote the film with Urie’s partner Ryan Spahn (above, left), plays a version of herself — an embarrassingly desperate version, mind you. She loses her boyfriend, agent, and career in one day and sets about on a wild adventure to turn her life around. That’s where Urie comes in — plus Mamie Gummer, Ralph Macchio, Jesse Eisenberg, and Natasha Lyonne. (You know, the usual suspects.) Urie told EW exclusively, “The story is based around the idea that Halley’s life is crumbling… Famous people keep falling into her lap, [but it’s] in a ‘too bad for them’ way because they waltz into the movie and immediately get attacked by Halley.” Below, Urie shares another exclusive image and talks up a few of his directorial inspirations.
In the film, Halley and her brother Ryan (Spahn) recruit Urie to direct a film. The Michael in the film is “a more bitter, jaded, angry version of myself,” says Urie. He only reluctantly accepts the job. So what’s the chip on his shoulder? “Throughout the movie, Halley refers to me as ‘The Gay Gay from Ugly Betty,'” which Sad Michael does not appreciate. In real life, “I encouraged them to use it a lot because it’s so funny — and it’s true. Are you kidding? I’m so lucky people know who I am!”
It’s a common thread in this film full of “That Guy” actors, including Austin Pendleton (My Cousin Vinny‘s stammering public defender), Girls‘ Billy Morrissette, and Ashlie Atkinson (Rescue Me‘s plus-sized secret girlfriend), to name a few. But there are a few whose name recognition has finally caught up with their faces, including…
Urie says Gummer, a friend of Feiffer’s who just happens to be the daughter of Meryl Streep, plays the least far-out version of herself in the film (unlike Ralph Macchio, who does a lecherous self-parody). “Mamie serves this great purpose as a peer of Halley’s who’s handling the business in the best possible way, whereas Halley keeps making these horrible mistakes,” says Urie. “Mamie kind of represents Halley’s nemesis. … We see Halley Googling herself and ending up seeing Mamie. She wants to be Mamie and also hates Mamie.” When the two cross paths, as seen above, Urie notes it’s just one of the many wrong-footed moments for Halley. “I wanted the movie to feel like we were a fly on the wall,” he says. “[Like] we were sort of watching this foot-in-mouth train wreck that is Halley Feiffer.”
To capture the film’s off-the-cuff vibe, Urie — who directed the documentary Thank You for Judging in 2011 — says he looked to some of cinema’s greats for inspiration. “I watched a lot of Robert Altman because he was so brilliant at making you feel like it was just life happening and that you were sort of an unwitting observer of it.” Another inspiration? “I love what Woody Allen does with the camera — he really makes it feel like [the story’s] being made up as the actors go. He knows exactly where to put the camera to find funny, and that is a huge question when you’re shooting a comedy. I definitely took a page from the Wood-man.”
He’s Way More Famous Than You premieres Sunday afternoon at Slamdance.